Detectives in Stanislaus County have broken up an identity and mail theft ring which may have dozens of victims.
Five people were arrested in connection with the scheme. The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department said at one point the group was ranging across the county to pilfer mail from as many as 100 mailboxes per day. Information in the stolen mail was used to defraud victims out of $30,000 to $50,000 per month.
Arrested were Michelle Edgar, 31; Chad Goodwin, 24; John Yeager, 30; Carl Robbins, 52; and Norma Arredondo, 39.
A routine traffic stop in Waterford in January led to the arrests. Officers stopped Robbins for a traffic violation and searched his car. They discovered two large garbage bags filled with stolen mail.
That discovery led to a larger investigation in which officers learned the mail had once been stored at a home in the 13000 block of Bentley Street in Waterford. Earlier this month, officers searched the home and found methamphetamine, more stolen mail, and computers used in the identity theft crimes. They arrested Yeager and Edgar, who lived in the home, and booked them on charges of mail theft and possession of narcotics. Robbins, who was out on bail at the time, was re-arrested.
While interviewing the suspects, investigators learned Arredondo and Goodwin were also allegedly involved. They were arrested in Ceres.
Detectives said the group was organized and savvy about technology. The suspects cashed stolen checks worth thousands of dollars and applied for new credit cards in the names of their victims, according to investigators.
Investigator believe Arredondo was the ring leader. Detective John Walker said she made a chilling statement to him during interrogation. "At one point she looked right at me and said, 'The best parts about this is, one, spending other people's money, and the other great thing about identity theft is I can be whoever I want to be.' And she pointed at me, and said, 'I can even be you if I want!'"
Detectives do not know how many people the group victimized. The suspects have been charged in Stanislaus County but may also face federal charges as well.